More Than Innovation, Sparking A Movement To Support Workers

By Eugene K. Chow — Fellow, Office of Innovation, State of New Jersey

Long used by tech companies to spur innovation, accelerator programs are being adopted by governments — but with a twist.

Most accelerator programs run by the private sector seek to advance innovation by supporting startups or entrepreneurs with a combination of education, mentorship, financing, and other resources as they develop a new product or novel approach.

New Jersey’s recently launched Future of Work Accelerator takes accelerator programs a step further by using the government’s unique ability to convene and scale.

In the case of the Accelerator, the problem it seeks to solve — blunting the negative impacts on workers and work itself from disruptive technologies — is too large, complex, and far-reaching for any single solution or idea. The only response capable of addressing such a broad challenge is to spark a movement across industries and disciplines to support workers.

So more than providing innovators with custom workshops, access to funders, and mentoring like other accelerators, the Future of Work Accelerator also changes how participants think about their work and helps them recognize that they are part of a larger, collective effort to support workers.

Through a tailored curriculum, participants are taught to think beyond their particular project or field and provide them with the connections to partner across like-minded groups or individuals whether they be entrepreneurs, unions, non-profits, foundations, businesses, or policy-makers. By working together and using their collective resources in a concerted fashion, they can have a far greater impact than as individuals.

More specifically, the Future of Work Accelerator supports the innovations and innovators that are advancing workers’ health and safety, improving access to benefits, strengthening training opportunities, and bolstering workers’ voices — critical areas that will become increasingly so in light of growing workplace trends.

Essentially, the program is open to anyone — whether they be startups, non-profits, public sector institutions and employees, unions, or grassroots organizations — so long as their work helps prepare workers for disruptive shifts in technology.

So far, over 100 applicants from every sector and walk of life have applied to be a part of the Accelerator’s first cohort. Submissions include a mobile app that provides technical assistance to low-income entrepreneurs, an organization working with unions and policy makers to provide benefits for gig workers, a group creating pathways to tech jobs for underserved youth through paid training and work experience, and more.

From these, roughly two dozen will be selected to take part in the Accelerator’s nine-month program, where they will receive the support needed to pilot their worker-centric programs or practices in New Jersey.

To help ensure a broad impact across industries, the Accelerator sought to create a truly diverse pool of applicants, engaging unions, worker-owned cooperatives along with women or people of color-led organizations, and other under-represented groups.

Furthermore, rather than limiting its reach to direct program participants, the Accelerator is taking an “open-source approach,” publishing all of its training and materials so they are freely accessible to all to better help spur a broader movement to support workers.

Ultimately, the Accelerator’s impact will be measured by its ability to identify a broad range of innovations, bring novel solutions or ideas to market that support workers, and its influence on policy.

The Accelerator is led by the New Jersey State Office of Innovation in partnership with The Workers Lab and RSA’s Future of Work program.

The project is the brainchild of New Jersey’s Future of Work Task Force, which was charged with understanding how technological innovation is impacting jobs in New Jersey and producing a roadmap to prepare and protect New Jerseyans from disruptive changes.

The Task Force recognized the urgent need to immediately begin preparing for this changing work landscape, and so the Accelerator was born.

While accelerators themselves are not necessarily novel, their use by the State of New Jersey is relatively new, and their addition to the State’s toolkit is particularly profound when it comes to driving large systems-level change across a range of industries.

Learn more about the Future of Work Accelerator at: https://accelerator.fow.nj.gov/

New Jersey State Office of Innovation

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